Category Archives: Settle an Estate

Paperwork and procedures an executor, trustee or family member must do to manage the financial affairs of someone who died.

Is there an unclaimed life insurance policy in your future?

I came across an old article in the New York Times about this topic and thought it worth reviewing. 

When someone who purchased a life insurance policy dies, the amount due to the beneficiary is set aside and the insurance company waits to be contacted by that person.  After a period of time from two to seven years (it varies by state) has passed with no one coming forward, the money is turned over to the unclaimed property division of the state in which the person died. 

Since many people do not know whether a family member who died purchased a life insurance policy in their name, hundreds of millions of dollars go unclaimed.  In fact, New York alone, in the period 2000 to a few years ago, received more than $400 million in unclaimed life insurance property and only paid out about $64 million.  That means the bulk of that property remains unclaimed and probably will never be claimed.

If a family member has died and you think he or she might have had a life insurance policy, the first thing to do is to check for any payment receipts or check stubs so you can identify the name of the insurance company.  Contact that company, ask what their procedure is for filing a claim and then follow their instructions. 

If a great deal of time has lapsed, two good places to start are unclaimed.org and MissingMoney.com.  If they have no record of any funds, check the website for the unclaimed property department of the state in which the person died. 

Don’t leave your money in the state’s coffers.  Claim the funds due to you today.

For information about estate planning and other relevant topics, go to www.diesmart.com.

Access to online bank accounts a problem after death

In the “old days”, a paper trail was usually very easy to follow when someone died.  You could find their bank account statements, credit card and utility bills and pension and brokerage account information all tucked away in a file cabinet or a drawer.  Then you  called the contact numbers provided to notify them about the death.

Today, it’s not so simple.

Many of us do our banking online.  All we do is log in, click on those merchants we wish to pay, insert the amount and we’re done.  If we want to transfer money or even deposit a check, no paper has to be used. Everything is done electronically.

Bill paying has also gone paperless.  I can’t remember the last time I received a bill in the mail.  Today I just receive an electronic notification that my bill has been processed for payment.

If I want to know how my portfolio is doing, I log into my brokerage account to check.  I no longer get huge stacks of paperwork every month detailing the value of each investment.  It’s the same with my pension – I just go online and review the numbers.

This is great except for one thing.  It leaves no paper trail for our loved ones to follow when we die.  If we don’t keep good records that list all of the accounts that we manage online as well as the passwords and other information needed to access them, they may never be found and some of our assets may be floating around in cyberspace forever.

For more information about how to plan for incapacity or death, go to www.diesmart.com.

Helen and Les Brown were born on the same day, remained married for 75 years and died just one day apart at age 94.  What a wonderful story of true love.  It would be great if there were more couples like them in the world.

75 year marriageBut, while thinking about this great couple, being a part of the Die Smart community I can’t help but think about their estate.  It’s bad enough if one person dies and a family member has to settle the estate, including dealing with lawyers, probate court and the mounds of paperwork that are necessary.  But the double work of settling the estates of two people can be massive.

Did they have wills, trusts, POD accounts?  Will one estate have to be settled before the other one?  Did they have their affairs in order?

To learn about what you should do to make sure you can avoid probate and make it easier for your loved ones to settle your estate after you’re gone, go to diesmart.com.

5 things you should know before you agree to be an executor

When my father died ten years ago and I found out he had named me as his executor, I thought “Okay.  It’s no big deal.”  Was I ever wrong!  I didn’t realize how much time, effort and frustration would be necessary to get everything settled. And I didn’t know that I would also have to be a detective.

 AARP recently published an article that listed five questions you should ask yourself before you agree to become an executor.   You might feel flattered if asked but think carefully about the questions and be sure it’s something you’re comfortable taking on.

1.  Do you have the time to take on this project?  When I started the process, I didn’t realize that it would be more than a year before my dad’s estate would be settled and that, during that year, getting all of the paperwork done and answering all of the government’s questions would often feel like a full time job.

2.  Do you have the skills to handle the process?  You have to be very organized and good with numbers.  Keeping massive spread sheets and tracking all of the paperwork nearly drove me crazy.

3.  Do you have the temperament to deal with all of the details?  I am a fairly calm, easy going person but I found myself getting very frustrated when confronted by people who made ridiculous demands.  One example I can remember is when the state of New Jersey (where my father died) asked me to sign a bunch of papers in black ink, get them notarized and send them in.  I did that and was shocked when I received a letter from a government office saying that I needed to resign them in blue ink, get them notarized again and send them back.  I did it and got one more letter.  It told me that I had not completed the forms correctly.  Believe it or not, it the letter said that the forms needed to be signed in black ink! 

4.  Do you know the rules of the state in which the estate is being settled?  Estate rules are very complex and I ended up hiring an attorney to help me get everything processed correctly.  Many people take this step after realizing what is involved.  For example, if you incorrectly declare the value of the estate, there can be legal repercussions, not just for the estate but for you as well.

5.  Can you afford to be the executor of the estate?  I lived in California and my dad died in New Jersey.  Some things just couldn’t be handled by phone; this necessitated a few expensive trips back and forth across the country.  And it’s not just the money.  What’s your time worth?  Can you afford to handle this job for nothing?  In some states, executors are permitted to charge a fee that is a percentage of the value of the estate.  However, since this money comes out of the estate, taking a fee may cause conflict with family members.

If you agree to be an executor, be prepared to devote a great deal of time to the project.  Be patient and don’t let little things get to you.  Stay organized and check every detail.  You will get through settling the estate…eventually.

For more information about estate planning and settling an estate, go to www.diesmart.com.

 

Unclaimed property – Are you a beneficiary but you don’t know it?

Over the last five years or so, a study has been conducted to determine how insurance companies ensured that beneficiaries of life insurance policies were notified that a relative with a life insurance policy had died.

The study was initiated by California Comptroller John Chiang, who used a Connecticut auditing firm to examine the payment practices of 21 life insurance companies nationwide.  The Controller’s investigation “has revealed an industry-wide practice of companies both failing to pay death benefits to the beneficiaries of life insurance policies and ignoring their legal duty to turn the money over to the State for safe keeping.  Instead, companies would draw-down the policies’ cash reserves in order to continue collecting premium payments from the deceased.  Once the cash reserves were depleted, the company would cancel the policy.  Past audits also found that insurers did not routinely cross-check the owners of dormant accounts with government databases listing the deceased.  In other cases, companies had direct knowledge of the policy owner’s death, but still did not notify the beneficiaries.”

When questionable practices were uncovered, lawsuits ensued.  The premise of one of the latest was that insurers used the Social Security Death Master File to determine whether  those insured who had living benefit riders to annuities had died and, if so, they acted promptly to stop payments.  However, the Death Master File and other means weren’t used as often to ensure that beneficiaries of life insurance policies were promptly notified that a relative with a life insurance policy had died, and the funds from that policy paid out.

In the case of one recent lawsuit, the lead plaintiff claimed that he was notified only in 2010, four years after the death of the insured, and then only by the state of Illinois Treasurer’s Office…not by the insurance company.  He received only a small sum, and it wasn’t until June 2012 that a larger sum was paid, without a good explanation.

Earlier this month (June 2013), Mr. Chiang reached a settlement on behalf of the state of California and its residents with 11 insurance companies who had been found to have underpaid life insurance benefits.  The agreements he reached required the 11 companies to do the following:

  • Restore the full value of all impacted accounts dating back to 1995;
  • Fully comply with California’s unclaimed property laws and cooperate with the Controller’s efforts to reunite these death benefits, annuity contracts and retained asset accounts with their owners or, in many cases, the owners’ heirs;
  • Pay the policy beneficiaries 3% compounded interest on the value of the held amounts from 1995, or from the date of the owner’s death, whichever is later.

If the benefits are not paid to the heirs within a specified period of time, the law requires businesses to send the list of abandoned property to the state.  In California, the period of time is three years; it varies by state.  In many states, this has become a large source of revenue.  However, the states’ first goal is to return the money to its rightful owners.

Many other states have followed California’s lead, filed suits against the major insurance companies, and will also benefit from California’s settlement with those 11 companies.

To learn more about beneficiaries and estate related topics, go to www.diesmart.com.